Book Review: Mystery & Mayhem – Twelve Deliciously Intriguing Mysteries (The Crime Club)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Egmont Publishing

Pages: 304

Release Date: May 5th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Twelve mysteries.

Twelve authors.

One challenge: can YOU solve the crimes before the heroes of the stories?

These are twelve brand-new short stories from twelve of the best children’s crime writers writing today.

These creepy, hilarious, brain-boggling, heart-pounding mysteries feature daring, brilliant young detectives, and this anthology is a must for fans of crime fiction and detection, especially the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries, The Roman Mysteries and The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow.

Review:

I don’t read a lot of mystery stories so this was something new for me. I’ve heard of a lot of the authors but not read their stories, so this was a little taster into their worlds.

Some seemed to be stand alone stories while others were clearly characters from their novels. Don’t let this put you off if you’ve not read them: it’s easy to follow and you won’t feel like you’re missing anything if you haven’t read them. Be warned though: it’ll probably make you want to go and read all the novels!

As is always the case in short story collections, there were some I enjoyed more than others. The ones I enjoyed least were ones where I solved the mystery too quickly: I much prefer the ones that kept me guessing right until the end.

The highlight for me was probably the final story, The Mystery of Room 12 by Robin Stevens. This one was really intriguing and probably the most complex of the mysteries. I also really enjoyed the Wild West themes in The Mystery of Diablo Canyon Circle, by Caroline Lawrence, and anything by Frances Hardinge is just beautifully written.

While these stories spanned many places and times – Mel Foster and the Hound of the Baskerville even ventures into fantasy – they all have a very traditional, old fashioned mystery feel to them, and there’s sure to be something for everyone here.

 4

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)

Publisher: Vintage Books

Pages: 324

Release Date: July 5th 2007 (first published 1985)

Summary (from Goodreads):

The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.

Review:

This was a Christmas present from Nathan that I’ve been meaning to get round to for a while. I’ve wanted to read this since it was cited as an influence for Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, which I adored. I’d heard of this book but didn’t really know anything about it.

It took me a little while to get into this, a combination of a bit of a slow beginning and the fact that I was only able to snatch a few pages here and there between looking after the wee baby. Once I got going though, I found it intriguing. I felt that the backstory was expertly leaked, just drip fed to you little by little, so you never had to read a big info-dumpy passage about this history that led to this situation. It also kept you guessing right the way through as to what really had happened to lead up to this, and how people had let it happen. I enjoyed piecing bits of it together from the early hints.

I liked the fact that the ending was ambiguous: it might be frustrating but it fitted the story well. I did struggle to read the lecture transcript at the end – I actually nearly skipped it, not realising it was part of the story! –  but it was worth it just to discover more about the society from a historical viewpoint (the lecture is set years in the future) and for more hints on what happened to Offred.

The way this book really grips you is how it could actually happen. Though it may seem far-fetched, it isn’t hard to imagine this happening. It’s probably scarier reading it as a woman than as a man, as you see women in the story stripped of all power and treated as objects rather than as people. There are elements of this in our society today: this story just takes that to the extreme.

My favourite thing about this is the scale of Offred’s story. She’s not trying to overthrow the awful regime she’s trapped in: just to find a way to cope. While this might not seem very heroic, not everyone is a Katniss or a Tris who needs to save the world, and it’s good to see the story of just a regular person living in these horrifying times. I liked that she focussed more on her loneliness, missing her husband and child, and just wanting to be held and loved.

This is such a powerful read, I can’t recommend it enough, and the fact that it has inspired one of my favourite books (Only Ever Yours) makes it all the more special to me.

 4

Little Moore’s Bedtime Reads #2

We’re carrying on with our library books this week: we had a few repeat reads and some new ones as seen below.

Blown Away (Rob Biddulph)

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I had a thing about penguins as a kid so I think I would have loved this book. It was a fun adventure story with beautiful pictures.

Grrrrr! (Rob Biddulph)

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Another great story from the author of Blown Away. A fun rhyming tale about a bear who loses his Grrrrr – not just his voice but the actually grrrr that goes inside his speech bubble. Fun for adults as well as kids.

Lemur Dreamer (Courtney Dicmas)

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My son smiled the whole way through this so there was something about it that he loved. I thought the story was okay, but a bit difficult to follow from the words alone sometimes: it really relied on the pictures accompanying it.

Two Little Bears (Hanna Muschg)

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Repetition and rhyme make this a brilliant bedtime story, and the illustrations are gorgeous.

Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell)

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Classic children’s book – I loved it when I was younger. This time round I probably enjoyed it more than the baby, but I’m sure he’ll love lifting the flaps when he’s older.

Baby’s Day (Little Tiger Press)

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Free Book Start book. Nice and short rhyming book. Baby loves looking at the contrast colours and baby faces.

Elmer’s Friends (David McKee)

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Free Book Start book. Really bright colours and a lovely message about diversity.

Book Review: Flawed (Cecelia Ahern)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Pages: 334

Release Date: March 24th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan.

But then Celestine encounters a situation in which she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED.

In this stunning novel, bestselling author Cecelia Ahern depicts a society in which perfection is paramount and mistakes are punished. And where one young woman decides to take a stand that could cost her everything.

Review:

I’ve not read anything by Cecelia Ahern before, though I’ve heard of some of her books. I was intrigued by the concept of this one when I saw it on NetGalley – who doesn’t love a bit of dystopian YA?

What I enjoyed about this dystopia was its similarities to real life. This made it easy to understand: while there was obviously different elements in the society that made it clearly dystopian, there was also a lot that was familiar too – school, mobiles, trashy TV etc.

There was a fair amount of information thrown in at the start but it didn’t feel too infodumpy and I was intrigued to learn about the society, which separates people who are deemed ‘Flawed’ from the others who are not. I liked that the lead up to how the society was formed is quite clear and, while unlikely to ever happen, it still seemed logical and plausible – I’ve struggled with other books, such as the Divergent series, where the idea just seemed too ridiculous to go along with.

Celestine, our protagonist, is perfect to everyone around her and thoroughly believes in the Guild who judge people accused of being Flawed. Things change very quickly though when (minor spoilers ahead, sorry!) she helps a Flawed person on the bus and is accused of being Flawed herself.

Celestine often repeats how she is a mathematician and how all her actions are defined by logic. Her helping the Flawed person was logical to her, and she couldn’t see what was wrong with that. This helps to understand her actions sometimes when they might have appeared silly or obvious mistakes before. Still, there were a few times when even this logical approach didn’t convince me that her actions were realistic. (Another minor spoiler) The party with Logan, for example, just screamed trap to me, and I couldn’t believe she wasn’t in the least bit suspicious.

A couple of things I didn’t like – the instant attraction/connection with Carrick. It just felt like too much insta-love, even if the l-word wasn’t really used, and also like it could be setting up a dreaded love triangle. I also didn’t like the way she was being set up to be some kind of revolution leader/face of the resistance/poster child for various people, a la the Mockingjay etc. It just felt a bit cliche, and I’d love to just focus on her personal story rather than have someone take a society down again.

Still, I flew through this book and enjoyed it immensely. It’s really gripping, beautifully written with some horrifying moments too. I can’t wait for the sequel, Perfect, which comes out next year.

4

Book Review: Saga Deluxe Edition Volume 1 (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples)

Publisher: Image Comics

Pages: 504

Release Date: November 25th 2014

Summary (from Goodreads):

Saga is the story of Hazel, a child born to star-crossed parents from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war. Now, Hazel’s fugitive family must risk everything to find a peaceful future in a harsh universe that values destruction over creation.

Review:

I’m not even sure where to begin with this review.

I got Saga as a present from Nathan for Christmas 2014, so it’s taken me a while to get round to it. I’m not sure why really, except it’s a big book so wasn’t really one I could take on my travels. I’m kind of glad I put it off now though, as there’s some bits I relate to more now and probably enjoyed more because of that.

I’ve started reading more graphic novels lately, but I always have this secret fear that I’m not reading them right. I read them as I read books: quickly, not because I’m rushing, it’s just how I’ve always read. I worry with graphic novels that I’m not giving the pictures enough attention. And sometimes that shows I think, as I get confused with what’s going on.

This wasn’t the case with Saga though. I knew exactly what was going on, and immediately felt comfortable in the world. That’s a pretty huge compliment, as it’s a massive and complex world, and to be able to feel immersed in it completely from the first issue is really impressive. The world is rich with history – all hinted at, subtly bringing it together rather than one big info-dump – and is spread across several different planets, each with distinct visuals and creatures to match.

Then there are the characters. Man, I just loved them all. I was even rooting for the villains, which shows how well rounded they all are.

The main story is following Hazel, a new born baby who’s parents are different species, on opposite sides of a long standing war. Her parents, Alana and Marko are on the run from both of their own kinds as they try to stay out of the war and keep themselves and Hazel alive.

I loved Alana – she was crass and funny and just my kind of girl. Add to that her being a new mother, like me, and I just related to her completely. Some of her comments, from the first page where she’s giving birth, really resounded me.

Accompanying them are Marko’s parents and the ghost of half a sassy teenage girl who is bound to Hazel and becomes her night time sitter, as well as an essential part of the group as she helps them out of many scrapes with her resourcefulness and powerful illusions.

Then we have their pursuers.

My least favourite was Prince Robot IV. There’s nothing wrong with him and I found him and his story interesting, but just not as much as the others. Someone’s got to come last anyway.

Then we have The Will and The Stalk, two rival Freelancers who have both been hired to assassinate Marko and Alana and capture Hazel alive. The Stalk is some kind of spider alien and looks incredible. The Will is accompanied by Lying Cat, a beautiful cat who says when people are lying, and was probably one of my favourite characters. They’re soon joined by Gwendolyn, a woman with a vendetta against Marko, and Sophie, a six year old slave girl he rescues. While I felt like these were some of the villains of the story, seeing as they’d been hired to kill our protagonists, but I loved them all still.

So much happens in this book, and I just adored it all. There’s a wealth of interesting creatures and exciting encounters with them, and the war story just sings to me. I don’t think I can put across how much I enjoyed this in words, so I’d just encourage you to read it. Now.

Copy of an art exhibit

Book Review: The Complete Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, Leah Moore, John Reppion)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Diamond Book Distributors

Pages: 184

Release Date: April 19th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Join Alice on her whimsical journey down the rabbit hole! For the first time ever, Lewis Carroll’s beloved masterpiece is faithfully adapted and illustrated in its entirety, including the long-lost chapter, “The Wasp in a Wig!” From her initial meeting with the White Rabbit in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” to her final dinner party with the entire (and outrageous) “Through the Looking Glass” cast, every moment of Alice’s adventures in that astonishing landscape is captured in gorgeous detail. With old favorites like the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter joined now by a long-forgotten Carroll creation, The Wasp, in one of the book’s latter chapters, children and adults alike can rediscover the complete “Alice” tale and fall in love with Wonderland all over again!

Review:

I am a huge Alice in Wonderland nerd – I love the original story, I have a beautiful copy of the complete works of Lewis Carroll, and I love any kind of adaptation too. So obviously I jumped at the chance to review a graphic novel version.

While I enjoyed reading this, I wasn’t wowed by it. It adapts both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. The art style felt kind of old fashioned, in a good way: it reminded me of drawings in the Alice books I read as a child. I liked that in this medium the poetry and rhymes Alice recites were brought to life. I felt they missed a trick with the Mouse’s tale, which could have been drawn/written more creatively, as it is in the original story.

I’ve read Alice in Wonderland a lot and am very familiar with the story, and felt I enjoyed this part of the graphic novel more. I’ve only read Through the Looking Glass a couple of times, and not recently, and I struggled through the latter part of the book. Sometimes it was hard to follow the action and I wasn’t quite sure what was going on.

While I enjoyed reading this, I didn’t feel it added anything to the story: it’s a very straightforward adaptation, with all of the dialogue appearing exactly as it does in the books. Don’t go in expecting something new: if you’re looking for a faithful graphic novel adaptation of the original story then this is for you.

3

Little Moore’s Bedtime Reads #1

I’ve started reading a story to the Little Moore as part of our bedtime routine now. I don’t think it’s ever too young to start reading to your children: even if he doesn’t understand much now, he can look at the pictures and be soothed by my voice right before bedtime.

I’ve decided to do a post every now and then about the books we’ve been reading together, with mini reviews. I’m not sure how often this will be: it’ll depend on how often we read new books and how many we repeat. As I’ve just got him his library card though, I anticipate lots of new books!

So here are this week’s reads:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)

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My very favourite book as a child and now the first bedtime story I read to my son. This has great colourful pictures and encourages learning numbers and counting.

The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark (Jill Tomlinson)

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This is one I read as a child and have now read to my son. Really lovely story and great for any children who are afraid of the dark themselves. Ours also came with a plush Plop toy which is adorable.

What the Jackdaw Saw (Julia Donaldson)

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This was a really lovely story, and I especially liked that it was written with deaf children and had sign language in it. This plays a big part in the story and there’s also a page teaching some sign language at the end.

The Gigantic Turnip (Aleksey Tolstoy)

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A great telling of the classic tale, which beautiful illustrations to match. The story is told simply, with repetition and numbers. I remember there being more emphasis on how it’s the mouse that helps get it out in he end – team work and every little helps and all that – but it’s still pretty much the same story.

Book Review: Paper Girls Volume 1 (Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, Matthew Wilson)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Image Comics

Pages: 144

Release Date: April 5th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash-hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood.

Review:

I’m currently reading (and loving) Saga, also by Brian K. Vaughan, so when I saw this on NetGalley I had to go for it.

While this didn’t grip me as much as Saga has, I still enjoyed it. I love the all female leads: four paper girls from the 80s with bundles of attitude and sass. It’s great to see a lady-led cast and they all had different personalities and brought their own humour and badass-ness to the story.

I love a bit of sci-fi and this one intrigued me. I understood enough to enjoy the story, but there was enough mystery to leave me wanting more. The plot moves very quick from one thing to another: this is a plus because you’re never bored, but I found it sometimes left me a little confused. There were a few times when I didn’t quite get what was going on from the drawings and only caught up when someone said it in the dialogue. Still, the art style is really beautiful, and the colour scheme really screams 80s at me, which I loved.

There’s one hell of a cliffhanger at the end, which really sets up where the story is going to go and leaves you gagging for more – I know I’ll certainly be on the lookout for the next issue.

4

Book Review: Pretty Is (Maggie Mitchell)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Orion

Pages: 320

Release Date: April 21st 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Everyone thought we were dead. What else could they think?

One summer, nearly twenty years ago, two twelve year olds were abducted and kept captive in the forest.

There they formed a bond that could never be broken.

What really happened in the woods that summer?

Review:

The thing I really loved about this book is probably the thing most people are going to complain about – but I loved the simplicity of it. Two young girls are kidnapped and spend a summer with a strange man. He doesn’t beat them or abuse them in anyway, and when they are found they go back to their normal lives.

I did expect it to reveal eventually that he had done something unspeakable to them, and I’ll admit a dark part of me kind of wanted that, just to spice things up a bit, but that’s not the twist the book takes. While there are some thriller elements, I’d say this is more of a psychological book, as we see the effect of what happened to the girls, however un-dramatic it may seem compared to what could have happened.

Carly and Louis are adults with separate lives, although you know they are destined to meet up during the book at some point. I was waiting for that and had to be pretty patient – it didn’t happen until the very end, and there wasn’t nearly the dramatic reunion that you might expect. Still, it’s a really interesting story, and I loved seeing the way the strange events of that summer affected the two girls in different ways.

The book is split into sections, one of which is taken from the novel Lois writes about that summer. This was probably the bit I was most excited for, and again, nothing too dramatic really happened, but it was just fascinating to see how the events played out and what they felt as they spent the weeks in a cabin with a rather odd man. I did find the writing style there a bit jarring, as it seemed to jump between different people’s points of view at times – I didn’t know if this was the book trying to say Lois wasn’t that great a novelist, or if it was just the way the author wanted it.

If you’re into action and adventure and a dramatic flair then this book probably isn’t for you – what I loved about it was how understated it felt. You really get to know the characters in great, ugly detail (they’re not always flattering to themselves, but it makes them real people) and it makes you think about a traumatic event like this through the eyes of two survivors, rather than the sensationalised media. It feels so truthful it could easily be based on a true story, and I’d really recommend giving it a read.

4

First 6 Weeks – Highs & Lows

So, the Little Moore is 6 weeks old today, and hasn’t time flown by! Someone said to me recently that nothing makes time speed up like having a baby, and man were they right.

I thought I’d share some of the highs & lows of the first six weeks of his life. Obviously I’m very happy and love the little monster immensely, but I can’t pretend everything is easy either. But we’ll start with the lows so we can end on a high 🙂

Lows

  • After birth pain – I found it hard to even walk around for about the first week as everything was so sore. Even sitting down was painful, so I could never really get comfortable. Luckily that’s cleared up now, but it was pretty unpleasant.
  • Lack of sleep – this has to be one of the worst things. I expected it, of course, but I don’t think anything can really prepare you for it. Little Moore used to just switch on at night and keep us awake with his noises, or he’d be waking up to feed every hour. While it’s settling down now, I’m still struggling to get by on less sleep than I’m used to. But everyone keeps telling me it gets better.
  • Nathan going back to work – this made me really sad, for him because I know he’d rather be at home with us and feels like he’s missing out, and for me too, as it’s easier when there’s two of us on duty. Luckily he only works four days a week, so at least we have three at home as a family.
  • Breastfeeding – this is kind of a high too, because I love feeding him now, but we have had some problems with painful feeding. It’s also hard when you’re the only one who can provide this, but again it’s something that’ll get easier as he gets older.

Highs

  • His face – seriously, he pulls the most hilarious expressions. I’ve wasted hours just staring at the weird faces he pulls.
  • Maternity leave – while paternity leave is pants, as mentioned above, I really appreciate that I can take so much time off to look after him. I know other countries get a lot less, so I appreciate this time with him. I still worry it’s going too fast and dread going back to work, but I’m trying to push it aside and just enjoy the time I have.
  • Baby clothes – there are so many cute outfits, I just love getting him dressed every day. The sad thing is I know he’s going to grow out of them so fast – I’ve already had to put away the newborn size as they don’t fit anymore – but we have plenty of older outfits I can’t wait for him to grow into.
  • His noises – in the last couple of weeks he’s really found his voice, and the little gurgles and coos he makes never fail to make me smile.

And to finish off, here’s one of my favourite pictures of the Little Moore – he’s growing up with a couple of nerds for parents so a Legend of Zelda outfit was essential.

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